On November 5 (one wonders whether the powers that be recognized the appropriateness of the date) the noble Lord had a Starred Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, as part of their counter-extremism strategy, they will encourage a national debate about the nature of Islam, including whether the Muslim tenet of abrogation remains valid today.Sadly, I have to report that the brief debate that followed the Question was not on a particularly high level, consisting largely of statements disguised as questions about how shocking and divisive such a suggestion might be.
While this blog agrees with the notion that the state has no place in organizing religious debates and discussions, the Question refers to "encouragement" rather than "organization". There are many debates going on about major and not so major religions and nobody thinks that they are divisive. Why exactly should Islam be excluded?
As to why it might be a good idea to include such a debate or discussion in the "counter-extremism strategy", it would be hard to deny that the terrorist threat we face at the moment is tied in with certain groups in the Muslim community. For that very reason the many other Muslims should have a chance to take part in such a discussion and distance themselves from the extremists, their supporters and propagandists and not just the terrorists.
As it happens, I do know that there are many Muslims in this country who are actively fighting the good fight and they are not given nearly as much support either by HMG or by the media, especially not the BBC, though they are often in real danger.
Lord Pearson has also, with the help of a couple of experts on the subject, produced a paper, entitled Shall We Talk About Islam?, which, I am assured by his office, will be on-line very soon. As soon as that happens, this blog will link to it. In the meantime, let me quote the introductory paragraphs:
Have you noticed that when we try to discuss Islam, we are immediately accused of stirring up religious hatred or of being Islamophobic bigots etc? But we can say what we like about any other religion?What follows is a number of points about Islam and the Qur'an, with references to the accepted texts.
We are surprised by how little our friends and acquaintances know about Islam, which contains perhaps the greatest threat facing our Judaeo-Christian civilization.
So here is a memo on some of the basic facts about Islam. It may be controversial, but we hope it will encourage a long overdue national debate.
The memo has been sent to members of the House of Lords and to Opinion Formers with a suggestion to the Guardian newspaper, in particular, given their previous attacks on Lord Pearson that they preside over a serious debate. It does not have to be the Grauniad. Any other media outlet could do it.